Situated at Malvern within Philly’s estimable Main Line and nestled in the hills of Chester County, the course at Applebrook Golf Club is a Gil Hanse design that first opened for play in 2001, where holes start and finish next to a clubhouse that sits on the highest part of the property.
In the book The American Private Golf Club Guide, Daniel Wexler describes Applebrook as “a classic Golden Age-style layout complete with small greens, attractive, rough-edged bunkering and lots of native grasses to frame the entire picture.”
The author continues: “Applebrook took some stylistic cues from that most legendary of Philadelphia courses, Merion… There is far more subtlety here than on most modern designs which, perhaps more than anything, is what gives Applebrook its classic feel.”
Applebrook is a solid Gil Hanse design with wide fairways and large greens. It is also a walking only club which adds to the experience. The third hole is a great risk, reward, driveable par 4 , the 10th is a great par 5 and hole 11 is a neat but difficult 115 yard par 3. Played here in the GAP Patterson cup and this course is certainly scoreable after played a few times, but will penalize poor shots. Certainly not the top in PA, but worth a play if traveling through Philly.
I have had the opportunity to play Applebrook approximately 70 times and I played it again today.
It is a "links-like" course fitted into a relatively small parcel of land with the clubhouse perched high above the 9th and 18th greens and the tenth tee (back tee only). It is fun to play with the exception of on a very windy day. Although the fairways are generous, you must choose the right line for your tee shot on nearly every hole, starting with the first, a slightly downhill short par five whose fairway tilts left to right with a green that one cannot miss to the right or you will go tumbling down a hill.
The second offers a very severe dogleg right and the big hitters will want to actually go right of a cavernous bunker to carry the trees for a direct line to the green, which has both a bunker left and run-offs surrounding the front and right side.
The third I think is a weak hole due to the lack of land, a very short, sharp right dogleg with a hill that once cleared allows all balls to reach the green, even if you have landed in the bunker fronting it. The longer hitters sometimes hit 3 or a hybrid to reach the green.
The fourth is a lovely dogleg right where once again there is a lack of land from the tee box high on a hill. The smallish green is one of the more controversial ones due to the double swale on the left side.
Next comes what I believe is the best hole on the golf course, a lovely long par 3 raised slightly. It reminds one of a hole you would play in the UK or Ireland.
This is followed by a dogleg left to another raised green. You must hit the right side of the fairway to be able to see the location of the pin. Once again, the green has severe run-offs both front and all the way down the left.
The seventh is another raised tee box to a dogleg right to one of the more tricky greens to read in terms of where to try to land your approach shot. It is a nice view from the tee box.
The par five eighth hole is actually fairly straight, but the pond to the right and bunkers on the left and left side offer a lot of distractions. The green fits in front of a hill and is has a large bunker on the right.
The ninth is a short par 3 playing uphill to a steeply sloped green. Miss to the right and you are about 20 feet below the green in a large bunkers or in taller grass. The green can be a likely three putt unless you are below the flag.
The tenth is another weak hole unless you are playing the back tees. It is well designed for the land available with a small stream of water running down the right side crossing in front of you as well for the second shot. There is good strategy for the second shot, go for the green (about 220-230 yards), lay up in front of a huge bunker complex in front of the green or play out to the right side of the green where the fairway continues. But as a par five it is too short.
Next comes a version of a postage stamp hole, a 115 yard par 3. The green is relatively simple once you are on it.
The twelfth hole is a dogleg right to a green well defended by bunker on the left and run off to the right and front.
The thirteenth is a dogleg left to a green that also is difficult to hold. It is one of the longer par fours and typically plays into the wind. Downwind it is too short of a hole.
The fourteenth is yet another dogleg right. The big hitter will carry the rocks on the right, the shorter hitter will wisely hit left over it with a carry of 200 yards over wetlands. It is one of the better greens and better holes.
This is followed by the long par 3 downhill fifteenth with out of bounds to the left.
The sixteenth once again takes advantage of the stream and wetlands. It requires two shots of about 240 yards and 200 yards respectively to hit a lay up area before the wetlands to a green with a false front. Unless it is into the wind, the longer hitters will try for this in two shots.
The 17th is a 170-185 yard par 3 on a shelf. You can't really see the green from the tee box. It does have about 25 yards of fairway before the green.
Finally you arrive at the 18th which is straight away perched high on a rise with a large bunker at the bottom before you reach the grass fronting the green. There are mounds behind the green so many people hit a slightly longer shot as they know their ball will come back onto the green quite a ways down. If you have to play a third in from the left side of the fairway, you likely want to go right at the flag and avoid the mound.
Applebrook has a fabulous view from this green and the clubhouse.
Mr. Hanse did a great job of incorporating the stream and wetlands into his layout. The bunkers are almost perfectly placed and the right number of them. The greens run very true and are some of the best greens in the Philadelphia area. The fairways are typically in great condition. The course is relatively short at just over 6800 yards from the back tee (par 71) and 6300 from the member tee with a combo tee of roughly 6550 as well. This is a golf course designed to make you think about the target line into the green as well as one that is made to have fun. It is a joy to play on a lovely day.
In 2001, a pair of New England golf course developers visited Applebrook and were so impressed by the work of little-known architect Gil Hanse that they hired him to design what would become his breakthrough course—Boston Golf Club. It doesn’t take even a full round here to see why they were favorably inclined. Hanse’s routing flows naturally over an odd shaped parcel of land with every tee a short and intuitive walk from the previous green. Doglegs abound, with #s 10 and 18 the course’s only straight holes. (The latter is challenging enough at 430 yards from the members’ tees and 40 feet of elevation over a huge bunker on the second shot.) Only these two holes lack a line of charm to challenge the tee shot.
The greens are nicely contoured, though not a severely as Boston’s. A covered stone wall in the fourth fairway adds another classic touch. (This effect is offset by the waterfall that drops from the clubhouse between the 10th and 18th fairways—a feature that was installed over Hanse’s objections.) Another classic touch is the requirement to select options for one’s approach shot, as only a few holes require an aerial shot. The hallmark of the four par 5s is a challenging second shot, a spot where many architects simply fall asleep. The par 4 holes’ yardages also show diversity, with the par 4s running from 280 (the terrific drivable par 4 third) to 437 yards from the member tees. The five par 3s, however, do not share this characteristic, as I hit the same club on three of them.
Good conditioning completes the splendid picture at Applebrook.